Book: Mackenzie’s Mountain by Linda Howard

Reviewer: Bethany

Age/Genre: Contemporary Romance

Preferred Reading Environment: Draw yourself a nice, warm bath for this one!

Reading Accoutrements: Go all out! Candles, chocolate, wine, and your favorite bath additive(s)!

Content Notes: This book has some serious racial stereotyping of Native Americans and contains rape, kidnapping, and sexual assault.

I have reviewed a couple of Linda Howard books since this blog started, but I recently came across Mackenzie’s Legacy in a trip to the bookstore and I got really excited. I had already read three of the Mackenzie Family novels and this copy has two that I hadn’t read yet: Mackenzie’s Mountain and Mackenzie’s Mission. I’m only going to review Mackenzie’s Mountain today, because I have a lot of things to say about it, but I have now read all of the books in the Mackenzie Family series and I’ll probably talk a bit about them toward the end of this review, as well.

Wolf Mackenzie lives an isolated life with his son on a mountain outside of the small town of Ruth, Wyoming. Wolf is half-Comanche and half-Scottish, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and a well-respected horse trainer. He has a hard time trusting the people of Ruth because he was wrongfully imprisoned for the rape of a local girl several years before the beginning of this book because of racism. After spending two years in prison, Wolf was released when the real culprit confessed. He picked up his son from the foster system and returned to Ruth, purchasing the ranch where they now live and setting up his business. He and the townspeople live in a sort of stalemate, doing wary business together only by necessity.

Mary Elizabeth Potter is a school teacher who describes herself as a “mousy spinster.” When she arrives in Ruth, Wyoming to take the place of a retiring educator, she is upset to learn that one of their star pupils has dropped out. Mary is determined to ensure that 16-year-old Joe Mackenzie enrolls in school for the coming year. She is also woefully unprepared for January weather in Wyoming. Her car stalls halfway up Mackenzie’s Mountain and she walks for about 15 minutes before Wolf Mackenzie finds her on the side of the road and rescues her from hypothermia.

Wolf is suspicious of the seemingly friendly stranger from Ruth, but he can’t take his eyes off of her, either. He warns Mary that helping his family could mean losing her job, but Mary stubbornly refuses to give up on Joe’s education. Mary tutors Joe after school to help him catch up to the other students in his grade so he can enroll for his senior year with the rest of his class.

Meanwhile, the  people of the town of Ruth don’t like what Mary has stirred up in their community – spending evenings tutoring Joe, insisting that he go back to school, and judging them for allowing such a bright student to drop out. When another of the girls in the town is raped and suspicion lands once again on Wolf, Mary repeatedly defends the Mackenzies to the town. But her defense soon makes her a target and Wolf has to use his training from Vietnam to track down the rapist and protect Mary before tragedy strikes again.

Wolf and Mary are super adorable together. Wolf is one of my favorite types of romance-novel heroes: the stubborn, broody, former-military badass with a chip on his shoulder, a protective streak about three dozen miles wide and a gentle streak to match. Mary is the type of woman I want to be when I grow up: kind to everyone, passionate about her job and the people she loves, with a core of steel that most people never suspect. She has that Southern Woman Superpower where she can make you agree to something you don’t want to do and then thank her for it. (I. Need. It.) Together, they make a pretty great team because Mary doesn’t back down to Wolf’s intimidation tactics and Wolf backs up Mary when she needs a little extra muscle to get the job done. Adorable.

I mentioned in the content notes that there are a lot of stereotypes present in this book and I wasn’t lying. Howard generally condemns racism throughout the plot of the book, but also validates it, so it rings hollow. Let me explain: Wolf’s heritage – half Comanche and half Scottish Highlander – is used regularly throughout the book as a sort of excuse for his character traits. In fact, the book opens with Wolf standing at a window, naked, and “needing a woman” because his dual ancestry – “two of the most warlike peoples in the history of the world, Comanche and Celt” (I kid you not, that is a direct quote) – makes him a “natural warrior” and a “sensualist.” Throughout the book, both Wolf and his son regularly refer to the need to control their “savage appetites.” At first, I rolled my eyes. But then I got really irritated the more it went on.

Maybe I got irritated because the characters’ descriptions of themselves is a direct reflection of the willful ignorance displayed by the people of Ruth, who regularly made snide remarks about the isolated “Indians” or “half-breeds” who lived on the mountain above them. They told Mary that the two men were dangerous because of their breeding, but couldn’t provide any concrete evidence of why the Mackenzies deserved such open hostility. Wolf is such a proud character that it grated on me how much he internalized the opinions of the townspeople; Howard could have better developed the internal conflict Wolf felt so his mindset came across less like validation of the “savages” stereotype.

Howard never outright provides a year when this book takes place, but I know it’s many years (at least 10) after Wolf leaves the army, where he did three tours in Vietnam. At the earliest, that makes it the late-60s or early 70s. The amount of blatant racism probably shouldn’t have been so shocking to me considering the things that were happening in America in the 60s and 70s – riots and sit-ins and so on. It was just a gut-punch seeing the hatred portrayed so openly, from the perspective of a character who accepts and internalizes people’s stereotypes of him. I actually growled in frustration (you should’ve seen the looks my dogs gave me) partially because I knew that this hatred was based in reality, and this wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things.

I read this series all out of order, because when I started them I wasn’t aware that they were part of a series. By the time I figured out that the other characters in the book I was reading had their own stories, I was mired down in school work and didn’t go looking for the others. I knew that someday, I’d want to find the rest of the novels in this series, but I didn’t go actively looking for them. The characters are all very engaging, even if they have similar emotional hang ups – including the heritage stereotypes. I was pretty annoyed to learn that two of the seven members of the Mackenzie family don’t have books written about them, because I want more of these characters in general. The characters are awesome, but I feel that way about all of Howard’s books. She can write some unique characters and backstories.

While I was doing research for this review, I found a bunch of other reviews of the Mackenzie Family series written by people who were rereading the books that were overwhelmingly positive. It seems to be the general consensus (and I am not excluded from this) that Howard’s characters are lovable and their stories are worth reading again and again, even if the characters are put in horrible situations. I’m also not the only one who wishes that there were more books in the series…

Have you ever wanted more books in a series? Tell us about it in the comments!

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